Students hoping for a break from government cutbacks just got one. On Jan. 9, Advanced Education and Career Development Minister Clint Dunford announced a budget increase by $95 million over the next three years.
Highlights of the budget increase include a $30 million Alberta Opportunities Bursary program in which the province will match up to $15 million a year raised by post-secondary institutions. The increase comes into effect for Fall semester 1998.
Associate Vice-president Finance Michael McAdam said that the university was pleased with the bursary program.
"Our first priority is bursaries for first and second-year students," said McAdam. "The new $15 million from the government will match money we've raised [for bursaries]."
The Access Fund, which aims to increase the number of spaces for students at post-secondary institutions, will increase as well. The government will spend an extra $20 million in 1999/2000; this amount will increase to $30 million the following year to deal with rising enrolment.
"There's not a net benefit financially," said McAdam of the Access Fund. "It's not flexible money. There is a definite impact, but there is no net gain."
The government is also allocating $39 million over the next years to performance-based funding. This means that post-secondary schools will receive this money based on Key Performance Indicators like accessibility, responsiveness, affordability and research.
"The $39 million is related to what we call reinvestment in education, meaning there are no strings attached," said McAdam. "It is flexible money that can be used to meet the priority needs of the university."
Dunford admitted that there is no assurance institutions will receive the same amount of funding from the performance envelope, but he said it is a good way to allocate money.
"We will spend that money even though there's no guarantee as to which institution it will go to," said Dunford, "but it shows the tremendous advantage to be gained by meeting and exceeding performance envelope standards."
Students' Union President Patrick Cleary said the University of Calgary's past performance should allow the university to collect more money.
"Because they're putting an extra $39 million into this envelope over the next three years, it will mean the U of C will be getting more money," said Cleary.
Some groups argue that the figure directed toward PSE is less significant than it sounds. Alberta College-Institutes Faculties Association Official Bob Barnetson said that much of the money isn't cumulative and that some of it was already committed. One example is the Access Fund allocation, which is earmarked to ensure enrolment spaces opened by the Access Fund in previous years stay open.
Barnetson said that the rest of the Access Fund is not enough to deal with increasing enrolment figures.
"It's really not $95 million to deal with enrolment," said Barnetson. "It's $95 million going to many different areas. You would need another $232.8 million just to accommodate the additional demand of [a projected 25 per cent increase in enrolment]."
Dunford maintained that the base budget will increase to $95 million by the end of three years, and that $211 million will actually be spent in the next three years. The $211 million is expected to come from a previous commitment of $105 million to infrastructure.
"In the event that there is more money in infrastructure programs, it will certainly help the U of C," said Cleary. "Additional money for infrastructure projects will help offset demand for money in that area."
Dunford expects some criticism.
"We will be criticized that it's not enough, but how much is enough?" asked Dunford. "We're trying to respond given that fiscal environment. People must keep in mind that the government's priority is paying down the debt."